Economics is the largest major within the USC Dornsife School for Letters, Arts and Sciences, according to Economics Department Chair Matthew Kahn. The economics major has grown 36 percent from the fall semester of 2010 to 2016, with over 1,000 students in Fall 2017.
“The reason why I became an economist 30 years ago is because when I was a little kid I would read The New York Times and I would read facts and I didn’t understand why facts were facts,” Kahn said. “It occurred to me that I could better understand these facts if I had training in economics.”
Training in economics helps students become a more sophisticated reader of news and analyzer of data, Kahn said. He also believes the 21st century is the age of “Big Data.”
“Those young people who know how to see patterns in data are going to have a lot of career success,” Kahn said.
Emma Hyams, a senior majoring in economics, expressed similar thoughts when she decided to transfer into the program.
As a freshman, Hyams found herself struggling to sit through her introduction to computing and discrete math classes in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
“Looking at the list of all the electives that [economics majors] had, everything sounded so interesting to me [compared to] the computer science electives I would have to take [as that major],” Hyams said.
After taking a statistics for economics class with Professor Manochehr Rashidian, Hyams officially switched her major as a junior in Fall 2016.
Hyams is part of a growing trend of students at USC choosing to study economics. In Fall 2016, 14 percent of Dornsife declared majors are studying economics, according to Kahn.
He attributes part of the program’s success to its rigorous quantitative training, especially in econometrics. The University’s econometrics program is ranked 11th in the world, according to IDEAS, an online research economics database. Companies like Amazon, Netflix and Google have also recently started hiring more economists well-versed in econometrics to analyze emerging business patterns, Kahn said.
Over the years, the economics department has recruited new faculty to improve the program. In January, Romain Ranciere, former professor of economics at the Paris School of Economics and senior economist at the International Monetary Fund, joined the staff as the department vice chair to teach a course on the causes and consequences of international financial crises. Similarly, Paulina Oliva, associate professor at UC Irvine will teach an environmental economics class next semester.
Senior economics major Eric Bittner admires his professors and their diverse economic backgrounds and opinions.
“We get insights into all different aspects of economics,” Bittner said.
Kahn believes hiring strong researchers and committed teachers will create more opportunities for undergraduates to work closely with faculty both inside and outside of the classroom.
Director of Undergraduate Studies and economics professor Mark Moore added the major’s growth has been spurred by student leaders and external events.
“We have re-established an undergraduate economics association and it has become very active and we are working with them to create a lot of career events, so we are encouraging students to get involved and we are interested in having students participate in the education they want,” Moore said.